It was not my intention to do a second posting on woman born woman events, but last week the controversy flared up again at Pantheacon, the largest gathering of Pagans on the West Coast. To give you an idea just how big this is, 205 workshops and events were scheduled from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon, and that included leaving 3 hours free each day for food.
The controversy arose when a transgender woman wanted to participate in a ritual put on by a Dianic group. Dianic circles are for “women born women only” but, in this case, although notice was posted that there would be some ritual nudity, nothing was posted about it being for women born women only or even about it being just for women. The transgender woman was turned away at the door.
Let me be clear, I wasn’t there and had nothing to do with the ritual. Clearly, if the organizers were going to limit participation to a certain group, that should have been advertised. I got involved 24 hours later when a friend told me she overheard people talking about doing a panel on the incident and making sure there would be a lot of people there. I went to the office of the program committee and said I would like to be on the panel, which I discovered had been labeled “Gender Discrimination.” I said my doctoral research was on the shaping of gender from a sociological perspective and I thought those insights could be of use in the discussion. In addition, I am in a Dianic circle. The person in the office told me she would get in touch with the people putting on the panel and would get back to me. She called me within a half hour and said they were willing to have me on the panel. Ruth Barrett, well known Dianic Elder and teacher, also decided to attend.
I put off the 7 hour drive home to attend. Instead of a panel, we sat in a circle and whoever had the talking stick could speak. The organizer, the individual who had been refused entry, began, and was very generous in allowing me ample time. I spoke about childhood gender socialization and how our life experiences teach us how to interpret our biological experiences, how it is a complex, dynamic interplay of factors that shapes our gender identity.
I must say I was taken aback at how most of the people there saw the issue as one of simple discrimination. Then I learned that the people who had refused entry to the transgender woman had not even been notified that this discussion was going to take place. Of course, as I pointed out, labeling the discussion as one on gender discrimination biased the event from the start. The language we use frames the discussion. Had it been called “Gender Discrimination vs. Religious Freedom,” there might have been both a very different crowd and discussion. And as there was a letter being circulated attempting to ban women born women events from future Pantheacons, the issue could be experienced as such. As it was, and had my friend not accidentally overheard a conversation, no one would have been there to present an alternate viewpoint.
Almost everyone spoke. Some of them told horrific stories of their lives as transgender individuals, of pain and abuse that no living creature should ever have to experience. I wasn’t the only person with tears as we listened to their stories. We heard of multiple rapes, of desperation and of self-hatred. The wounds are deep and lasting.
And yet they are not the same wounds or the same self-hatred that people in female bodies experience when brought up in a male-dominated culture. The internalized misogyny, the shame in the natural functions of the female body, the unconscious giving way to male privilege and the expectations for self as Other are painfully unique. The Dianic tradition is an embodied one. These are embodied experiences. When we speak about the “blood mysteries” we are speaking not only of our biological functions – menstruation, birth, menopause – but also about what it means to grow up and live in female bodies in a male-dominated society where gender matters.
Gender is so terribly important in our world, that some people are willing mutilate their bodies and spend large amounts of money to make their bodies fit what is in their hearts and heads. If gender didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be transsexuals. And, ironically, there wouldn’t be a need for the Dianic tradition.